‘Amazon is both friend and foe for publishers’: News UK commercial chief Dominic Carter on 2019 expectations

This year, News UK, which owns The Times and The Sun newspapers, integrated its newly acquired radio business Wireless Group, launched first-party data tool News IQ for advertisers in the U.K., and invested in the publishing alliance Ozone along with the Guardian, The Telegraph and Reach newspaper groups.

Digiday asked News UK’s group chief commercial officer Dominic Carter his thoughts on the most important moments of 2018 and why in 2019 News UK wants in on the voice and connected home market.

What were the most important strategic milestones for News UK in 2018?
One of the biggest has been the publisher collaboration Ozone. It should be an outstanding new milestone for publishers generally. We have worked before together on a marketing level but never in terms of a joint investment and being joint owners of something — that’s a new step forward for us all. GDPR has caused issues for many also, and as we work through it over the next 12 months, others will fall by the wayside but it creates more opportunities for companies like us. But there will be a big sea change around data and how it’s used, because of GDPR.

Why are you so sure Ozone will succeed where previous alliances haven’t?
Ozone is an alternative to open marketplace [buying] and if we can move advertisers from OMP where it isn’t safe, and where a lot of their money is disappearing. If we can create a platform where more of the money can hit the media owner, and therefore the consumer and in a safe, contextual environment, what advertiser wouldn’t want to do that? We are absolutely committed to it.

What evidence have you seen that advertisers’ attitudes have altered toward brand safety?
In February, we shut down OMP buying on The Times and have seen significant growth as a result. That’s evidential in itself — that our private marketplace and programmatic guaranteed revenue have risen substantially since we did that. We’re also seeing double-digit growth for The Sun on the private marketplace.

Does it frustrate you that marketers keep spending on Facebook despite the privacy scandals and metrics snafus?
From a personal point of view, yes. I don’t pay much attention to ads on Facebook, but for others, it works. What is frustrating is more the imbalance that exists. The fashion is very much about going with a contemporary business with scale and data. If those are the two axes you [advertisers] work with, then the duopoly will always win. If the axis [for advertisers] is about being in a trusted environment where there is little risk to brand reputation, then businesses like ours sit above Google and Facebook. They are certainly equally important, but not necessarily recognized as such, though they may well be in the future.

Do Amazon’s advertising ambitions make it a friend or foe to publishers?
A bit of both. I would be more worried if I was Google and Facebook, but at the same time, I don’t want someone else sucking up more of the money that’s available in the market. Amazon could be a really significant player in the ad market if it so chooses. I don’t think it has made that choice just yet in Europe. But it will grow; Amazon has the data and scale — when you combine those two things that means you can compete with the duopoly in a significant way. What’s not there yet is the emotional attachment — it’s a functional, convenient platform to shop on — if someone else came along and offered the same thing — people would use that.

What is the strategic importance behind the Wireless acquisition?
We hired the biggest broadcasting talent Chris Evans earlier this year, which is a demonstration of how we want to be No. 1 in the market. We’re trying to become a single shop that can reach different audiences and demographics in different ways, whether it’s is audio, written-word, branded content or video. I want to put those things together seamlessly and provide a holistic way of utilizing our media that gives access to our audience and gives the best return on investment to advertisers. If I can prove that, we deserve to be successful in winning a bigger share of the advertising dollar.

If you could get rid of something from 2018, what would it be?
Negativity. I’m a Northerner. I hear so much about Brexit and the fear of it and what a nightmare it will be for the country. The negativity permeates through to business and then the consumer, who then spends less and then businesses spend less and then we end up in a recession. So the negativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The economics and politics of what’s going on around us will be what it will be, but if we wallow in negativity, that’s where we will end up. In media, we can complain about the duopoly, about GDPR, and Brexit, but these things are there and we have to move forward and be optimistic about what we have.

What’s a new priority for next year?
Voice is becoming a more important part of the home, and we have a part to play in that. So it will be about how we as a media owner shift from just providing products into providing services and that’s where having a diversified portfolio with different skill sets should help, and enable us to offer services to marketers that historically have thought of us as delivering product. So connected homes and voice will be two big themes next year and we can play a part in both.